The Internet company's unauthorized digitization of Chinese books angers authors and writers' organizations
ALL KNOWING: A man tries Google's search engine at an exhibition in Beijing on November 3 (CFP)
The sudden fame of Zhang Hongbo, Deputy Executive Director of the China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS), started when his organization began probing into Google Book Search's alleged infringement on Chinese copyright holders. The non-governmental organization, which represents Chinese writers on copyright issues, released a statement on September 1, claiming that its survey found that Google Book Search had scanned at least 17,922 Chinese books that are under copyright protection without seeking permission from 570 authors.
Since then, he has been interviewed repeatedly by major national news organizations and has been receiving calls from famous writers who have entrusted his agency to negotiate with Google for compensation. He has also been traveling frequently to other cities in China, where he advocates for local writers to join his organization, or to at least entrust it to negotiate with Internet company.
"The more rights holders I represent, the more leverage I will have during talks with Google," Zhang told Beijing Review on November 13.
On October 16, CWWCS posted a letter on the Chinese Writers' Association website, calling on copyright holders to talk with Google through writers' and publishers' associations. Zhang said that by November 13 over 700 Chinese authors had entrusted his agency to negotiate with Google.
While Zhang prepared his legal battle with Google, the Internet company was busy ironing out a class action lawsuit settlement with American authors and publishers. According to the settlement, whose latest version was filed on November 13, authors and publishers accusing Google of violating their copyrights by scanning their books, creating an electronic database and displaying short excerpts without the permission of copyright holders, will get a one-time payment of $60 per scanned out-of-print book (or $5 to $15 for partial works). In return, Google will be able to index the books and display snippets in search results, as well as up to 20 percent of each book in preview mode. Authors and copyright holders will receive 63 percent of all advertising and e-commerce revenues associated with their works.
But the settlement does not apply to Chinese authors and rights holders whose works have been scanned by Google into its digital index.
"Even if Google offered to apply these compensation terms to scanned Chinese books, we would not have accepted them," said Zhang, who met with Eric Hartmann, the Asia-Pacific head of Google Books, on November 2.
A meeting memo kept by CWWCS shows that Google admitted it had scanned books under Chinese copyright for its online library in numbers much larger than the figure announced by CWWCS. The company denied any copyright violations.
Google launched its Book Search interface in the Chinese language in March 2007 and announced on October 9, 2009 that the service contained over 10 million scanned books. On October 22, Hartmann wrote on googlechinablog.com that 50 Chinese publishers had joined Google's library project partner program. They authorized Google to provide previews of up to 20 percent of the content of 600,000 books
Xinhua News Agency quoted Hartmann as saying that the company had obtained authorization from U.S. publishers and libraries and did not use the books directly for profit.
"As far as I know, not all Chinese writers have transferred their online copyright to the publishers in their contracts. Thus Google cannot get authorization for digital use of books simply from their publishers," Zhang said.
Zhang said no Chinese publisher had required CWWCS to drop its investigation since the organization launched its probe against Google.
He said it is common sense that libraries, no matter how big they are, have no rights whatsoever to authorize the digital use of the copyrighted documents that they store. He also objected to Google's argument that its online library does not violate copyrights as it only put abstracts of Chinese books online instead of full texts.
"The scanning of books itself violates the reproduction right of a protected work, an important right to copyright owners," said Zhang.
Zhang Zhifeng, a Beijing-based attorney who specializes in intellectual property rights (IPR), told Beijing Review that Google had infringed upon Chinese IPR laws when it scanned Chinese authors' copyrighted works without their authorization.
"It has surpassed the scale of 'proper use' and it should be considered a commercial act, whether Google directly procured profits from its Book Search or not," said Zhang.
Hartmann told The Beijing News that it is too difficult for Google to inform copyright holders before scanning their works that are stored in libraries, since one library may hold over 1 million volumes and rights holders of over 80 percent of works cannot be found.
"This does not justify failing to inform the authors," Zhang said. "This act is nothing less than a burglar using the excuse that the house owner is not at home to justify his coming in and taking away valuable possessions."
However, Zhang said his organization appreciates Google's commitment to solving the accusation of infringement through negotiations. He said the talks are still at a preliminary stage and Chinese authors are still looking to "extract an explanation" from the company. He expects that it will take a while for both sides to come up with a standard compensation package.
Mian Mian, a best-selling novelist, filed a lawsuit against Google on November 6, demanding that the Internet company delete her work from its Book Search results, publicly apologize to her and compensate her 60,000 yuan ($8,800) for economic losses and mental anguish.
The author found that one of her romance novels was included in Google's Book Search results. She said the display of scanned snippets of her work damaged the integrity of the novel.
However, Google's ambitious Library Project building, which is also the largest online book repository, has many Chinese fans. In an editorial on China Youth Daily titled "Chinese Writers: Stop Your Anger Against Google's Infringement," the newspaper called Google's plan "an exciting project" that would overcome the time and place limitations for people to share humanity's cultural heritage.
"We cannot imagine how the communication between civilizations could be broadened when people across the world could use a computer to view records on an ancient Chinese place stored in the Library of Congress of the United States," said the newspaper. "It is no exaggeration to call it a project benefiting mankind."